Is the Time Ripe for the Expert Generalist?

DrewCM's picture
Chat Date: 
Thu, Apr 04, 2013

It is time for our next joint chat combining the forces of ideachat and innochat into our bright and shiny bi-monthly mashup chat suitably hashtagged, innoidea

Angela Dunn, the leader of ideachat, has brought a special guest to our chat this time, but we will let her introduce our chat, the topic and our guest...


"One thing that separates the great innovators from everyone else is that they seem to know a lot about a wide variety of topics. They are expert generalists. Their wide knowledge base supports their creativity.  

As it turns out, there are two personality traits that are key for expert generalists: Openness to Experience and Need for Cognition."

– Art Markman PhD in "Picasso, Kepler, and the Benefits of Being an Expert Generalist

Most of my life, I have enjoyed connecting people and ideas across a variety of disciplines. I find that I am able to find patterns and solve problems because of my many interests and experience with various industries. It is not surprising then that I founded ideachat on Twitter where I bring people from many industries together to focus on different aspects of creativity. 

When I founded ideachat in 2010, I felt there was a need to focus a discussion on how individuals can innovate. I believed ideachat would be a complement to innochat which focused on innovation with many enterprise and organizational leaders. Now in 2013, I thought the climate might be changing for people like me, creative Expert Generalists. It is one of the reasons I approached Drew Marshall with the idea of combining the ideachat and innochat communities for a bi-monthly chat which has come to be called innoidea. Our innoidea topic on Thursday, April 4th at 12 Noon, is: "Is the Time Ripe for the Expert Generalist?"

Special Guest Creative Generalist Arnold Beekes 

I asked Arnold Beekes, who describes himself as a Creative Generalist, to be our guest, April 4th. Arnold shares his ideas on innovation on his Service Innovation blog. An area Arnold discusses that I have written about and find fascinating for Expert Generalists is the area of Convergence.

According to Arnold Beekes, "The way I look at it is that it becomes clear to many more people that events (global warming; financial crisis; lack of trust in the government; unethical behavior in companies; mental illness; etc.) are no longer seen as separate, as distinct from each other. These events are connected and they influence each other, they converge.

Previously when there was such an event (or a huge problem), they would assign a specialist or a group of specialists to fix it. This perspective did work rather well in the industrial age, where the assembly line approach was extended to other areas as well, like problem solving. Split the problem into some small parts, fix these small parts and the whole problem will be fixed. The people who are ‘in power’ are still applying this old age approach to the current information/human age. And then they are surprised that the problems cannot be fixed in that style of dissecting.

One way to tackle these problems is:

  •        To see and accept that they are converging.
  •        To assign ‘generalists’ to the problem solving teams.
  •        To understand that we will not return to the way things were before.
  •        To be willing to look in the mirror and change your self!

 Creative generalists can provide this new way of looking and ‘connect the dots’.

So, is the time ripe for Expert Generalists? Join me and Arnold this Thursday!

Some questions to consider are:

  1. What skills do Expert Generalists bring to problem-solving?
  2. What can be done to increase the awareness of the added value of Generalists?
  3. Which problems should Generalists tackle?
  4. How can there be a fruitful symbiosis between Experts and Generalists?
  5. How can Generalists be hired and mobilized?

Other recommended reading:

What Newness Can Grow in 2013? – Arnold Beekes

Picasso, Kepler, and the Benefits of Being an Expert Generalist – Art Markman, PhD

Building Success in the Future of Work: T-shaped, Pi-shaped, and Comb-shaped Skills – Ross Dawson


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